PEN America’s Claim That Thousands of Books Are Banned by Schools Is Largely Fiction: Report

The Heritage Foundation found that 74 percent of the books supposedly banned were still available in the online card catalogs of districts criticized for banning them.

AP/Rick Bowmer, file
Amanda Darrow, director of youth, family and education programs at the Utah Pride Center, poses with books that have been the subject of complaints from parents at Salt Lake City. AP/Rick Bowmer, file

A new study by the conservative Heritage Foundation has found that a liberal group’s assertion that thousands of books have been banned by school libraries across the country during the 2021-2022 school year is wildly inaccurate.

The report by senior research fellow Jay Greene at Heritage’s Center for Education Policy suggests that PEN America’s claim that 2,532 books were banned — primarily by conservative-leaning administrators —  is off by as much as three-quarters. Combing through the online catalogs of districts cited by the writers’ advocacy group, Heritage found that 74 percent of the books supposedly banned were still available in those districts, and many of them were checked out at the time Heritage did the survey.

“PEN America advocates on behalf of poets, essayists, and novelists, and it shows: Its report is almost as fictional as the work of the writers it represents,” the report states. “Manufacturing a book-banning crisis where none exists only serves to undermine public discourse and fails to protect democratic freedom.”

According to its website, PEN America counts as “banned” books that may have been reinstated at a later point or had access to them restricted for a certain point in time.

In a recent report trumpeting a “supercharge” of books bans across the United States, PEN America said the number of book bans across the country increased by 28 percent in the first six months of the current school year. The group said that since it started tracking book bans in July 2021, more than 4,000 book bans affecting some 2,253 titles were tracked. Many of the titles were said to involve topics such as race, gender identity, American history, and LGBT issues, the group said.

Free speech “is under grave threat due to an unprecedented about-face in our legislatures, communities and school boards; we are turning our backs on free speech for fear of certain ideas and narratives,” PEN America’s CEO, Suzanne Nossel, told a congressional committee examining the bans last year. “Some Americans have become convinced that so-called divisive concepts or even stories about diverse families are so menacing to our children and young people that it is worth sacrificing the Constitution and betraying the First Amendment in order to suppress them.”

The researchers at Heritage found that many of the works considered classics that PEN America said had been banned — “Anne Frank’s Diary,” “Brave New World,” “Lord of the Flies,” “Of Mice and Men,” “The Color Purple,” and “To Kill a Mockingbird” to name a few — were readily available in the online card catalogs of the districts cited by PEN. For example, PEN said “To Kill a Mockingbird” was banned from libraries at the Edmond school district in Oklahoma, but Heritage’s researchers found 10 copies of the book listed in the district’s online card catalog, and two of them were checked out when they checked.

PEN says racism has motivated many of the bans it cataloged, and a book title “The Hate U Give,” a New York Times bestselling young adult novel inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement, is one of the most frequently targeted titles. PEN says it has been banned by at least a dozen districts. Heritage, however, says the book was listed as available in the catalogs of every district in which it was supposedly banned.

Heritage says that many of the books that were not available in the card catalogs contained graphic images or descriptions of people involved in sex acts that are not age-appropriate for public school libraries. Among the titles it cited are works such as “Gender Queer,” “Flamer,” “Lawn Boy,” and “Fun Home.”

“People who don’t want these books available to children in school libraries aren’t book banners,” the Heritage report says. “And people unwilling to defer to the unilateral authority of teachers and librarians to decide what children should have access to without democratic oversight or parental input are not fascists.”

PEN America did not respond to a request for comment by the Sun, but told the Daily Caller that the group “has stated repeatedly that we record instances where students’ access to books they were once free to read has been diminished.”

“Obviously, that happens in many ways,” the group’s senior advisor for communications, Suzanne Trimel, said. “Bans come in different forms. Some are permanent. Others are temporary. We use the category of ‘banned pending investigation’ to describe some of these circumstances, which certainly can change.”

“In fact some book bans are ended because of advocacy from students, parents and community members who care about the freedom to read; so it’s not surprising to see people pushing back and some books going back on shelves,” she added.

The New York Sun

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